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Sandy Knauer

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Blogs by Sandy Knauer

Clarence’s Appendix
2/5/2005 9:16:49 AM
one illness wipes out a life


Clarence had never given his appendix any thought. He knew he had one, but wasn’t sure why, or what it did. He certainly didn’t know one mysterious organ could be the domino that set the rest of his life in a speeding crash.

He was good with communication except in job interviews. He told great stories and could converse with most anyone on a friendly level but job interviews stumped him up every time. He didn’t need to read or write for most of the jobs he wanted but always feared they’d ask him to read something and deny him the job when he couldn’t do it. Shoot, he was strong enough to carry twice what most guys handled and he had stamina to spare. Best of all, he was loyal. He never missed a day when he had work. Those things were more important than reading in his line of work, but he couldn’t tell that part about himself on interviews. It seemed too much like bragging.

The moving company was a perfect match. He didn’t have to drive, read, or write. They just wanted him to ride along and carry in furniture and boxes. It was easy work for him and it gave him an opportunity to see nice houses and things, to be happy for the folks who could have them, and to build dreams of things he could save for if he was careful with his spending.

Kaney Brothers wasn’t one of those big, cross-country moving companies. They only had three trucks and a dozen employees, so they couldn’t offer benefits. That didn’t concern Clarence. He never got sick and wasn’t the vacation sort anyway. Steady work for rent money was all he needed.

Clarence rode with Jake Kaney on the eve of Christmas Eve. “Lucky we got work this time of year,” Jake told him. “Ain’t many wantin’ to move this close to the holidays.”

“Thanks for letting me work it,” Clarence said. “I feel bad for the guys losing days.”

“You work the hardest,” Jake explained. “If I only get one guy, for sure I’m pickin’ the one that’ll do the most for me.”

It started snowing around noon. Clarence smiled for the people who wanted a white Christmas, but wished for his sake it would hold off at least until the heavy stuff was in. Jake would complain he was wasting time if he stopped to wipe the snow off the wooden pieces, but Clarence couldn’t stand to see people’s things get damaged. He worked faster than usual that day, to satisfy both Jake and the customer.

His pain started on Christmas day, first a kink in his left side and then a hell of a burn. Figuring he must have pulled something when he slipped on the stairs with the sofa bed during the last move, Clarence watched his daughter, Donetta, and her husband, Russ, open their gifts and begged off on joining them for dinner with Russ’ parents. He locked the door behind them and retired to the couch with a heating pad.

Pain riddled his Clarence’s sleep that night. He woke exhausted the next morning, grateful there weren’t any scheduled moves. Another day of rest should do him good. Nothing was going to beat Clarence or bump him out of this good job. Nothing.

Fever set in that night. He called Jake to see if they had any work for the next day.

“A little job,” Jake reported. “Couple of desks from a warehouse to an office is all.”

“I’ll be there if you need me,” Clarence offered. “But I’m coming down with something. You can call one of the other guys if you don’t want to catch it.”

“Bud’d be glad for the work,” Jake said. “You get better for the big jobs.”

Clarence alternated between sweats and chills that night, barely finding the energy to go to the kitchen for water. The pain in his side was worse, but he felt almost too bad to even care. Next paycheck, he planned on picking up a bottle of vitamin C to boost his resistance, and maybe a toboggan to keep his ears warm while he worked.

The next time Clarence woke, he was in a hospital bed with a new kind of pain in his side and Donetta staring at him from a chair at the foot of his bed. “Dad? You okay?”
He looked at the IV dripping into his arm. “Don’t look that way. What happened?”

“Your appendix busted on you. It sent infection all over your body,” she explained. “That’s antibiotic running through the needle. Dad, they had to operate. Took your appendix out.”

“Oh,” he groaned. “Jake. Did you call Jake?”

She nodded. “Didn’t have work anyway. Said he’s got a big job on Thursday, and for you to call him.”

“What’s today?”

“Monday.”

Clarence put his hand on the bandage on his side. “Did you talk to the doctor? Will this be gone by Thursday?”

A resident came through the door in time to answer the question for Donetta. “You will probably be out of the hospital, but that won’t be gone. Staples’ll stay in ten days, no heavy lifting for six weeks. You’re a lucky man. Gangrene is serious but you’re going to be fine.”

“Six weeks? I can’t do that.” Clarence looked at his daughter. “Gotta work. Rent’s due.”

Donetta looked at the floor. “Don’t think about that now. We’ll work something out.”

Clarence would never have allow his baby to work out his problems anyway, but it turned out her own problems stood in the way of her good intentions. Philip Morris closed up the Louisville plant where she and Russ had met and worked together the last three years. A week after losing her job, Donetta found out she was pregnant. Russ went into another depression, she experienced some bleeding, and they both left before the plant closed and moved in with his cousin in Ohio.

Nurses came to the apartment to monitor Clarence’s IV antibiotics and Mrs. Coptal from next door brought his dinner over most nights. He had peanut butter and crackers to hold him over when she didn’t make it.
The landlord gave him an extra week to come up with the rent.

Jake dropped in on Saturday. “Business picked back up after New Years,” he reported. “Takes two of those sissy-asses to do what you done alone. And they’re half your age.”

Clarence thanked him for the compliment but Jake shook his head. “I can’t do it without you, Clarence. And nobody wants to fill in just for the coldest month of the year.”

Clarence nodded and rolled his IV pole across the tile floor to the kitchen. “Can I get you water? Don’t have anything else to offer.”

Jake declined. “I gotta run. I need to tie up some loose ends at the office. Can I get you anything?”

Clarence looked around the room, stopping at the plastic shelves that served as an entertainment center. “How much you think that TV set will get at the pawn shop?”

“Forty. Maybe,” Jake guessed. “Twenty for the music box.”

“That’s half the rent.” Clarence sighed. “Another week out of the hole, maybe. Would you run them down there for me after you finish at the office?”

“What you gonna do for entertainment? Man, you’ll go batty starin’ at the walls all day.”

Clarence picked up a deck of cards off the cardboard end table. “Solitaire. I’ll get by.”

Jake walked out with the television and boom box.
Clarence boxed up his mother’s dishes, the watch Donetta had given him for Christmas, and a silver dollar his grandfather found on a fishing trip when Clarence was ten, and had them ready when Jake came back the next week.

“I hated like hell to do it, Clarence. But I had to hire someone to take your place. The guys couldn’t keep up,” Jake apologized as he pulled a folding chair from the kitchen table over to the living room. “I’ll take you back first chance I get.”

“Man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” Clarence said, eying the stack of mail on the arm of the couch. “Can you do one more thing for me while you’re here? You know I have trouble reading.”

Jake nodded and followed Clarence’s eyes to the stack of mail.

“Open those up and tell me if there’s anything I need to take care of. Phone’s already off.”

Jake whistled when he tore into the second envelope. “They don’t waste no time. This here’s a bill from that doctor that cut on you. Eight hundred bucks for taking out that rotten appendix.”

Clarence closed his eyes. “How am I going to come up with that kind of money? That’s a hundred hours of work, not counting what you take out for taxes.”

“And that’s just the doctor,” Jake warned. “You’ll get bills from the hospital and the lab, and the other guy that gave you the anesthesia. You’ll have to file bankruptcy or get Medicaid. You can’t do this.”

“This too shall pass,” Clarence said. “I’ll be well soon and I’ll pay my debts. Might take a while but I ain’t taking charity or skipping out on the man who saved my life.”

Clarence’s while turned into forever. An infected wound sent him back to the hospital for another week. The landlord put his things in storage and gave the apartment away to save him having an eviction on his record.

Jake took Clarence back part time in April, and he picked up some house painting on the side. The shelter wouldn’t keep him when he was working and the property management companies weren’t happy with his salary or lack of credit.

Eventually, it was easier to choose living on the street than to accept the defeat of being turned down. Clarence makes it a point to keep his head up and smile when he’s in food lines. After all, the people working there aren’t responsible for his bad luck.

Sandy Knauer


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